RSS

Category Archives: Discipleship

The Widow’s Might

(a sermon for November 15, 2020, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 12:38-44)

In one of several essays he wrote about faith, theology and the Bible, the late author John Updike once made the apt observation that at its heart the gospel narrative is the story of “two worlds colliding.”  He wrote that in his teaching and by his very presence “Jesus overthrows common sense – and declares an inversion of the world’s order, whereby the first shall be last and the last first, the meek shall inherit the earth, the hungry and thirsty shall be satisfied, and the poor of spirit shall possess the Kingdom of Heaven. [This] kingdom,” Updike went on to say, “is the hope and pain of Christianity; and it is attained against the grain, through the denial of instinctive and social wisdom, and through faith in the unseen.”

Two worlds colliding – that is, worldly “common sense” running headlong against God’s “foolishness” – which, when you think about it, might well be the entire biblical message in a nutshell! It certainly reflects God’s action throughout history: consider, for instance, Abraham and Sarah, who held on to the ridiculous notion that although they were both in their nineties, God was not only calling them to leave home and kindred and wander off to a new, as yet unknown destination but was also about to make them parents of an entire nation! Or how about Moses, who by anyone’s standard would have been considered crazy for confronting the all-powerful Pharaoh with a clear ultimatum to “let my people go.”  Or, for that matter, think of the determination of David or Joshua or Daniel; the bravery of Esther and Ruth; the sheer audacity of Jeremiah and a whole host of prophets: these were all persons who lived in direct opposition to the conventions and standards and the politics of their time and their world, and did so out of a faith in the almighty and providential God, strengthened by the love and strength that this same God gave to them for the task.

However, nowhere was this “worldly collision” more apparent than in Jesus, who seemingly defied “good” sense and common sensibility every step along the way.  I mean, whatever else one might choose to say about Jesus – as a believer or even as a casual observer (!) – it certainly can be asserted that where the ways of this world were concerned, Jesus was utterly and relentlessly unpredictable. When it came to social acceptability, he’d do the unthinkable: eating with tax collectors and publicans, associating with prostitutes, lepers, the poor, the sick and the uneducated. And where the powers-that-be were concerned, Jesus regularly shook the tree branches of the status-quo, to say nothing of needling the religious establishment first to within an inch of its patience and then way beyond its tolerance. And in large part because of that the culmination of his life and work ended up being his death on the cross; but even then, in one final act of defiance against the world’s expectations, Jesus was resurrected and all of his creation was redeemed.

Jesus was a true radical; but understand, this was not merely for the sake of being radical for the purpose of instigating that worldly collision to which Updike was referring, but wholly for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ was the very embodiment of God’s “foolish wisdom,” in which, according to theologian and historian M. Conrad Hyers, “the whole hierarchy of human values… human greatness and self-importance are inverted. [In the kingdom of God] servants appear in the stead of their masters and mistresses. Riffraff are admitted to the royal banquet table. The nobodies stand up and are counted. Peasants are crowned king and queen for a day, and a ragged band of slaves become the chosen people of God. The kingdom is a world in which beggars are more at home than the wealthy, sinners more than the righteous, children more than their parents, and clowns and fools more than priests and scribes.” Yes, here we have it again; that in the kingdom of God, “everything becomes topsy-turvey,” but it’s so that everything may be made right.

And so understand that when Jesus, as we read in our text for this morning, condemns the prideful posturing of scribes while making a point of lifting up the value a small but sacrificial gift of a widow who’d made her way to the temple treasury, he is not reflecting upon the amount of the gift, but rather commenting on the fact that what this woman had done was flying right in the face of everything the world respects and holds dear: things like wealth, power, abundance and the all too common obsession with “being seen.”

What we’re talking about here, friends, are two little coins; two lepta, representing about one fortieth of a day’s wage for unskilled labor (essentially two pennies).  And not only that, it should be pointed out that these were also very tiny little coins, so small and so light that it wouldn’t have even made a tinkle in the metal trumpets that served as offering receptacles in the temple. So understand that physically and economically, these tiny little lepta meant nothing in the worldly scheme of things, or at least nothing compared with all the other valuable and voluminous gifts ceremoniously placed in the treasury that day.

But here’s the thing: these two tiny little coins that amounted to next to nothing was, in fact, everything this widow had in the world, and she gave it willingly.  She gave it out of her great faith and devotion unto God; she gave it out of her confidence, a sure and certain knowledge, that in giving she would receive and because she’d already received much more than she could ever possibly give in return. Her gift was excessive and extravagant and much more than should ever be required; but then again, so was her love of God. And it’s this gift, this so-called “widow’s mite” that Jesus tells us is worth more than of the ample offerings given in the temple that day; its giver much more reverent than the learned scribes who regularly paraded their piety for the sake of “the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,” and who “devour widows’ houses” for their own comfort. Upside down thinking, to be sure, to even consider that one elderly, poverty-stricken, powerless widow would give the greater gift, but such is the kingdom of God; where true abundance is measured in commitment and a widow’s “mite” becomes a “widow’s might.”

It’s an amazing concept; and one that most collides with the world in which we live! After all, this is the kind of world where wealth is power; where corporate CEO’s, movie stars and professional athletes command annual salaries far greater than the vast majority of others can even make in a lifetime; where the Jeff Bezos and the Bill Gates of this world contribute a billion dollars to charity and still be among the richest of all. We’re part of a society where too much is not enough, where need, want and avarice too often get confused as one and the same, and where the definition of financial security becomes broader with each passing generation.

But then into this world we know so very well comes Jesus, and he’s bringing us the good news that… wait for it… God does not care about our money!  Now I realize I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this today – it being stewardship season and everything (!) – but we have to be theologically honest about this: that ultimately, it does not matter to God the amount that we put in the offering plate (virtually or otherwise!).  How much or how little one gives, it doesn’t matter, because the fact is our God – the Almighty God who has created heaven and earth – doesn’t need our money.  But… hold on; for lest you think that we’re all off the hook where stewardship is concerned, understand that God wants something more: something more than our money, something more than merely the abundance of our wealth.

God wants the sacrificial gift… the sacrifice of our hearts… the sacrifice that comes with our trust… the sacrifice that’s offered up by our love.  

And that thing is, this is nothing new, because in scripture God says this again and again: you will be my people, and I will be your God. What God wants, you see, if for you and I to make a commitment unto him, to claim God as our own as God has claimed each one of us.  And that, you see, was what the widow was doing: by this gift of two little coins, everything she had in the world, she was in essence laying her very life into the hands of God, saying, “Here… I trust you. I am putting my life into your hands now. I’m yours.”

It’s a remarkable thing… and not only is it an act of true faith, it’s an act of… might!

And might I add here that ultimately, it’s what our giving and pledging and stewardship is supposed to be all about… about our trust in the God who continues even in these strange and uncertain days to bless us so richly, and about our sheer might in proclaiming the Kingdom of God in our midst. More than the giving of our offerings, it’s about the giving of our hearts; and of course, we all know that when we give our heart to something, we inevitably end up giving much more… perhaps even all that we have. 

William Willimon tells the story of an old friend of his he’d learned had been sent to the custodial care of a nursing facility.  The news came as something of a surprise, wrote Willimon, because as far as he knew his friend, though he was in his late seventies, was in perfect health.  The only thing he could find out was that he’d been sent to the nursing home because of his “distressing mental state,” which surprised Willimon even more; surely, he reasoned, age had not taken so high a toll!

Well, come to find out that apparently, his friend had volunteered in his retirement to work a couple of days a week at the church sponsored soup kitchen. “The next thing they know, John has gotten so involved over there that one day he sat down and wrote them out a check for $100,000! Just like that. With no discussion, no forethought. $100,000” which, by the way, was most of his life’s savings… and he handed it over to the soup kitchen. Of course, Willimon continued, “[his children] thought that he’d gone over the deep end. So, they forced him to go into a nursing home where he would receive proper supervision.”

Listen carefully there, and you might just hear the sound of a collision; for such is the upside-down, topsy-turvey world of the kingdom of God!

Am I suggesting this morning that we all sign away our life’s savings to the church, or to some mission movement?  No… but I would suggest that each of us look closely at the thoughtfulness of our giving; in our offerings and stewardship, yes, but most especially in the giving of ourselves. Do we give a portion out of our abundance, or do we give all that we have? Do we offer “first fruits” or just the gleanings of our lives? Is what we offer unto God today with our lives a sacrificial gift?  Do we truly give of ourselves?

I know that these are strange times to be asking these kinds of questions; uncertainty and fear and creeping “common sense” would seem to dictate that this year we quarantine our resources along with ourselves!  But our “kingdom sensibilities” would suggest otherwise and that now is the time to approach the temple of God with thanksgiving and gladness; that now is when we should be investing our whole selves into the Lord’s work in this place; that now is the moment when we are called to boldly be the church in a world sorely in need of what we have to give.

Now is the time, beloved, and I hope you will give prayerful consideration to how you’ll respond; but even more so, I pray that whatever “mite” each of us brings forward, it be a gift from our hands, our hearts and our very lives… and that first and foremost it be in response to what has already been given us “by the grace of our Lord  Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for [our] sake, in order to make [us] rich by means of his poverty.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

For this will be the gift that show forth our might for the sake of his Kingdom.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

Tags: ,

Stooping Down

(An Online Message for September 20, 2020, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 9:30-37)

Her name was Emily, she was six years old, and she was a visitor at our church that Sunday morning.  Well, not exactly a visitor, as she and her family were long time members of the congregation I was serving at the time, but they’d moved away to Atlanta the year before, and this was their first time back with us since they’d left.  So at the fellowship hour after worship, we’d all crowded around these old friends to visit and get caught up.

I have to confess, at first I didn’t even realize that Emily was standing there, so involved was I in all the small talk flying around.  But Emily was there, patiently but quite persistently trying to get my attention.  First it was, “Mr. Lowry… Mr. Lowry… Mr. Lowry!” with the increasing sense of urgency and intensity that kids can do so well!  But such was the clamor of voices in the room and my lack of attentiveness that this wasn’t working, so then she moved on to repeatedly yanking on the ministerial robe!  Now this I noticed; but how did I respond?  I gave her one of these (the wait a minute and shh! Finger!), and went back to my “adult” conversation.

But Emily was undaunted, and a minute or three later, when the crowd had dispersed, I finally looked down to find that Emily’s eyes were completely fixed on any sign she might be granted an audience with her former pastor.  At this point, I’m finally starting to get it, and bending close so I could see and hear her, I say “And how are you, Emily?” 

And Emily, bless her, started to tell me:  about her new school, her teacher, her classmates, how hot Atlanta is, about what she had for breakfast that morning and other matters crucial in the life of a first grader.  The conversation didn’t really last all that long – she got bored with me pretty quickly – and when she was done, Emily gave me a big hug and ran off to be with the other kids of the church.  The whole scene made me laugh, but I have to tell you that I’ve never forgotten that particular pastoral conversation; not so much because of how incredibly important it was to her to tell me about all her adventures, but how much more important it was that I stooped down to really listen!

Wouldn’t you agree that in any true act of caring and love, you’re going to find someone “stooping down” in some way or another?  For instance, if you’re in a serious conversation with someone, one of the non-verbal signals that that person is truly listening to you is that they’ll lean in just a little bit, as if to say, “I’m coming a little closer, because I want to make sure I get every word.”  Likewise, if you’ve ever visited someone in the hospital, then you know how awkward it can be standing by the hospital bed and towering over this person who is feeling weak and sick; so what do you do, or at least what did you do in the days before Covid? You leaned over, or you knelt down, or you pulled up a chair so you can be at their level!  

It’s within such relatively small considerations that are found a spirit of caring and love (and, might I add, if you’ve had a loved one sick or hospitalized over the past several months, then you know that these are the considerations that are truly missed!).  Robert Browning, the great 19th century poet, says this beautifully in a verse we hear a lot at Christmastime: “Such ever was love’s way – to rise, it stoops.”  And according to Jesus, such is the kingdom of God.

In our text for this morning, Jesus and his disciples have journeyed through Galilee to the village of Capernaum.  They’ve reached the house where they’re staying, and this is when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  Another simple question from Jesus without an easy answer, not to mention another one that’s met with embarrassed silence,  because what they’d been doing out there on the road was arguing about their legacy; specifically, who among them would be eventually be remembered as the best and greatest of disciples!  And even they know how inappropriate that was, not to mention ironic: after all, here was Jesus, who in every aspect of his life was the least, lowest, and servant of all and who’d just barely explained to them that this pilgrimage they were on would inevitably lead to betrayal and his death that would become this incredible sacrifice for the sake of a sinful humanity!  And yet, still here were these disciples all bickering over their own greatness! 

Well, Jesus’ response to this is, to say the least, swift and decisive: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” and to illustrate this point, he takes a child who’s there in the house and “puts it among them” as a living parable.  Cradling this little one in his arms, Jesus says to them, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me.” (The Message)

It’s a beautiful and familiar image; but we need to understand that this was no small gesture on Jesus’ part.  When we read this passage, you see, no doubt we think of children like our own; you know, cute and personable, little bundles of energy and personality.  But in Jesus’ time, children were not always viewed that way; but rather as unbridled bundles of chaos of little worth to the world. Many children in those days were sold into slavery, and that’s if they hadn’t already been cast out of society or killed, especially if they were girls. At best, children were to be seen and not heard, and then, not seen very much.

In Mark, when Jesus speaks of “welcoming” a child, the Greek word that’s used is decomai, which translates to mean “to receive or fully accept.”  What this means in the context of this passage is that we have this child who in the scheme of Palestinian life, power and culture means… little or nothing at all.  Jesus, however, embraces that child with love and affection and then says to the others, when you fully receive and accept this little one who’s weak, powerless, unappreciated and unworthy, you’re accepting me.  Now there’s a powerful image:  Jesus is saying, this is how you become “the greatest of all.” For you see, the Kingdom of God is entered through a very small door: in order to get in, you have to stoop to the level of a child!

Two thousand years later, of course, it’s safe to say that we do view the place of children differently and in a more enlightened fashion – in fact, for the most part, in our society today we place a high value on welcoming children, as well as on their welfare and nurture – understanding, of course, that the rising numbers of hurt, abused, abandoned and poverty-stricken children ought to be enough to remind us that as a people, we still have a ways to stoop to reach the level of a child and alleviate that pain. 

But that having been said, friends, I want to suggest to you this morning that for us to focus this text solely on children, as is very tempting to do, is to miss the point of what Jesus is saying.  The fact is, the child that Jesus is holding in his arms could be that homeless man who stands with his sign “Will work for food” down on Fort Eddy Road.  Or it could be that teenager who’s out on the street, abused, forgotten and pregnant, quite literally with no one to go home to.  Or for that matter, maybe it’s your neighbor who has faced such a barrage of tests and needles and chemotherapy that they are physically, emotionally and spiritually beaten down, to the point of feeling as though they don’t even really exist any longer… and being stuck in quarantine isn’t helping the situation at all.  Look in the arms of Jesus, friends, and you’ll see that in his loving embrace he’s cradling those who are weak and hurting and powerless, the outsiders and the nobodies.  Welcome these, Jesus says, receive these who are the least of all, and you’ll be receiving me. 

And whoever receives me, dear one, receives the one who sent me.

It’s still an important lesson, friends, because in truth, it’s all so very tempting, and easy, for us as Christians to glory at who we are!    I mean,  don’t misunderstand me here; I don’t want to overstate this, because I know that most of us don’t run around with an “holier than thou” attitude!   But it’s also true that in the empowerment our faith gives us, as well as in our joy of being with and serving God, there is always a danger of our standing so tall we’ll miss those below.

And that’s why we need Jesus, friends; and in this instance, not so much the “Jesus, Friend, Kind and Gentle” we love to sing about but rather the Jesus of Hard Truth who challenges us to live with a Servant’s heart.  If you’re going to follow me, he says, it begins by reaching out and reaching down into the places of hurt and suffering, stooping down as you go, so that you might be at the same level as those who have been beaten down by life and living, and love them as I have loved you.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, friends, and it’s a gospel that applies globally and societally; but never forget that it’s a gospel that applies first to you and me, here and now. Simply put, sometimes the best thing you and I ever do for others is to simply be with them, bringing the love of Christ to them in exactly the places where they are. 

One of the questions I get asked a lot as a pastor is what one is supposed to say to someone who’s just had a death in the family.  We’ve all been there, haven’t we: we’ve gone to the visiting hours, and we wonder how we can possibly get by the awkwardness of the moment and say something, anything that might give our friend some comfort in this horrible grief their experiencing; or at least not say something that will inadvertently make things worse! 

But, you see, the thing is that we really don’t have to worry about that: because it’s not really about what we say; the fact is, what they’re going to remember later on are not our words of eloquence and wisdom, or even that we were at a loss for words.  What they remember is that we were there; that we, that we looked them in the eyes to see their sadness; that we took their hands in ours and we hugged them (if only, these days, in a socially-distanced fashion!) and cried with them for a bit.  Maybe the only words spoken were “I’m sorry,” if that; but it spoke volumes, and trust me, we did more good in that moment, offered more healing, showed more love than we ever thought possible.  And all simply because we cared, and we showed that care by stooping down low enough that we might touch, and fell and share in their pain and grief.

Beloved, if you want an example of how to be “Christ-like” in these troubled times, there it is:  if we can love like that, if we will choose to love like that, letting Christ’s love be manifest in us, then we are not far from the kingdom of God.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, this is our life’s calling, yours and mine, wherever we are; to love one another with a love that stoops. As it says elsewhere in scripture, “Truly… just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”

Go forth and serve the Lord today with that kind of love.  And may our thanks be unto God!

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

Tags:

A Cup of Cold Water

(a sermon for June 27, 2020, the 4th Sunday After Pentecost, based on Matthew 10:40-42)

Her name was Peggy Grenier, and she was an elderly widow who lived in a log cabin up the road from us on the lake, and at the end of a wooded pathway; and for a period of time when I was very young, she was one of my very best friends.  Actually, Peggy was best friends with just about every one of the little kids who spent their summers on the lake, and as I think about it now, it’s a wonder she had a moment to herself, given all the children who used to come to visit her! 

We all loved to “go see Peggy,” and this was because by all indications, she loved to see us!  No matter what she was doing or how busy she was, the moment we turned up at her door, she’d stop everything to visit with us.  We’d tell Peggy all of our long, drawn-out stories, she’d laugh heartily at all our “little kid jokes,” and over cookies and cold glasses of lemonade we’d have these deep discussions about the great issues of our lives – school and friends and how much we hated social studies – but the thing was that all of this truly seemed to matter to Peggy!

What I remember the most about Peggy is that she really did listen to us, and what’s more, she talked to us like we were grown-ups, which at the age of six is quite a thing indeed!  I remember our parents saying to us, “Now, don’t you go up there and bother Peggy every day; she doesn’t need you kids hanging around all the time,” but we never really understood that because you see, Peggy never acted like we were a bother1 She always made us feel welcome, and all these years later I still remember how great that feeling was. And even though she’s long since passed on, other people live there now, and the log cabin itself has been completely remodeled, as far as I’m concerned, that place will always be “Peggy’s Camp.”

To feel welcomed – to be received, as scripture often translates it – is one of life’s great blessings, isn’t it?  I’m sure we can all name moments in which a simple act of hospitality made all the difference: someone inviting us to sit at their table and share a meal; inviting us to spend a holiday with them where otherwise we would have been alone; or has been the case for me recently, stopping by the house to bring a flower or a goodie bag or a simply a word of comfort.  It’s part and parcel of being a good neighbor, yes, and on a deeper level, it’s the act of affirming the great value of that person through a not-so-random act of kindness; but even more than this, spiritually speaking, it is seeing that person through the eyes of God.  It truly is as our reading today describes it, like giving that someone “a cup of cold water” on a hot and muggy day; it’s just that refreshing and life giving…

…and, might I add… an essential part of the Christian life; it is the manner of welcome to which you and I are called as disciples of Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself said it in our text for this morning, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and who every welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

It is worth noting here that these words of Jesus come right on the heels of those other rather disconcerting words from our text for last Sunday, all about how he’d come not “to bring peace but a sword,” about families being set against one another, and about losing one’s life to save it (and all of that, by the way, coming on the heels of Jesus’ dire warnings to the disciples about the inevitability of conflict and persecution). But then, just when any reasonable person might have run the other way, Jesus reminds the disciples of the great importance of the task before them; essentially saying that whenever someone receives them –  that is, whenever someone welcomes them into their homes, and into their “circle of trust” and admiration – they will be receiving Christ himself! Just as prophets and righteous believers are received on the basis of who they are, Jesus says, anyone who gives you even a cup of cold water because you’re my disciple is also welcoming me!  And when they are welcoming me, Jesus goes on to say, they are welcoming the God who sent me.

In these three short verses from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reminds us of the vital role that his disciples will play in the building up of the Kingdom of God; understanding, of course, that this extends not only to the original twelve but to all who would seek to follow Christ, and that includes you and me.  As disciples, you see, you and I are in the truest sense ambassadors of Christ in the places where we dwell, emissaries of his kingdom.  So anyone who welcomes us into their circle is also welcoming Jesus; and what that means is that anything and everything we do as “guests” will reflect on the one we represent:  our demeanor around those who welcome us matters, as does our sense of graciousness for what we receive, and our ability to speak, act and respond with love befitting the example of our Lord.

Now, you might think that this is an obvious point (in fact, I hope so; I mean, what’s not to understand about what amounts to “loving one another?”), but in truth of fact, there are a great many people, and many “Christians” among them whose lives never quite approach that example; the kind of folks who by their behaviors give too much credence to those rumors about Christians being holier-than-thou, hyper-critical hypocrites!   My point here is that it’s important for you and I to remember that for better or worse, when every day we head out into the world we are carrying our faith along with us; and there are countless occasions throughout the week when what we say, what we do, the choices we make, the attitudes we show toward others – how we live (!) – cannot help but proclaim something about that faith, either positively or negatively.

Which message comes forth… well, that in large part is up to us. 

It actually puts me in mind of one of my favorite quotes from Frederick Buechner,  a passage from his book, Wishful Thinking.  “Who knows,” he wrote, “how the awareness of God’s love first hits people.  Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid him.  Some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen… how about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment… maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”  The bottom line, friends, is that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are his representatives.  We are in essence his heart, his hands, his feet, his arms of compassion; in receiving us, you see, the people we encounter can and do discover the love of Jesus Christ; that is both the word of encouragement and the word of challenge that our Lord offered to his disciples as they went out into a harsh and uncertain world.  “This is a large work I’ve called you into,” Jesus tells them in The Message version of this text, “but don’t be overwhelmed by it… the smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

In other words, the “effectiveness,” if you will, of true discipleship is not to be measured by the greatness of what is accomplished, but in all the small things that are done greatly.  Just as something as simple as a card, or a call, or a visit shows us how much we’re loved and appreciated, when you and I offer up, as Jesus puts it, “even a cup of cold water to these little ones in the name of a disciple,” not only serves as an affirmation of faith and love and care to that one who was thirsty, it also shows forth the great and giving love of Jesus Christ and of the God who sent him.  And understand, when Jesus refers to “these little ones,” he’s not talking necessarily about children, but rather, he’s talking about anyone and everyone who has ever needed to be recognized and affirmed and valued and loved… or who simply need a drink of water. 

The point is that these are the ones to whom we are called to bring our faith and our love. and the best way we can reveal the reign of Christ in the world is for them to see Christ in us through merciful acts of love and kindness and grace that makes a difference in peoples’ lives. This, I believe, is what makes you and I authentically Christian, and it’s what makes us the church… yes, what makes us the church no matter where and how we meet.

Once again, it all seems so simple, so basic to the mission we share as believers; and yet I would dare say that in these days when people and groups have become so sharply and bitterly divided over so many issues – not to mention quite literally having to have our faces be covered and be physically distant from one another – that this call to bring forth true love and mercy represents one of the greatest challenges that the church faces in this day and age. 

For instance, I don’t know about you, but these days I’m something finding it very difficult to be able to express what I want to express while wearing a facemask!  This whole pandemic has made me realize just how much of ourselves we convey to others simply by the look on our face: the way we smile, or frown, or grimace, or share the abundance of our displeasure… or for that matter, our compassion.  I think I’ve shared with you the story of how I was in our local Hannaford the other day and another woman came barreling around a crowded corner and fairly well careened into my shopping cart.  It wasn’t a big deal – no harm done at all – but what was interesting was that because we were masked we literally stared at each other’s eyes for the longest moment because neither one of us could tell how the other was going to react to this little accident.  Was there going to be anger and heated words exchanged, or would we just laugh it off?  Based on just the masks we were wearing, there was no way to tell!  Frankly, it wasn’t until I made a stupid joke – in my official downeast dialect, mister man, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to you folks (!) – that she could tell I wasn’t upset and she could breathe a sigh of relief… and we both had a good laugh as a result.

It was, in its own unique way, a cup of cold water… and whether or not that woman knew it, a little bit of God was revealed.  And that was reward indeed.

Karen Mains has said it well: “When we give, having put away our pride, then Christ sanctifies the simple gift.  He makes it holy, useful.”  Friends, it may well seem to us like what we give is small and perhaps even insignificant in the wider scheme of things, to those who receive what we have to give it is anything but; and it’s certainly not insignificant to the Lord.  A cup of cold water matters; for what greater reward can there be than a not so random act of kindness resulting in someone encountering God, perhaps for the very first time?

There’s a lot of very thirsty people out there, friends… and we’ve got plenty of water.  

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Tags:

 
%d bloggers like this: